Category Archives: grace

Soren Kierkegaard on Being Completely Sure of the Christian Faith

“No, away, pernicious sureness. Save me, O God, from ever being completely sure; keep me unsure until the end so that then, if I receive eternal blessedness, I might be completely sure that I have it by grace! It is empty shadowboxing to give assurances that one believes that it is by grace—and then to be completely sure. The true, the essential expression of its being by grace is the very fear and trembling of unsureness. There lies faith—as far, just as far, from despair and from sureness.”

— “Resurrection of the Dead,” in Christian Discourses (1848), by Søren Kierkegaard  (Hong & Hong translation)

I first discovered part of this excerpt thanks to a post on the Søren Kierkegaard and Christian Existentialism Facebook page.

Grace is for the norm

Grace is for the norm. Everything that is normal is sinful. Some of us become saintly, some of us become perverted, but most of us are just as sinful as we are normal. Grace is for the norm.

Bono: ‘Grace interrupts karma’

I’m glad Rob Sturdy found this quotation from U2’s Bono.

The suicide of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous

I remember a couple of years ago when Pinckney Benedict, one of the acclaimed writers who taught in my master’s program, announced on MySpace that Sparklehorse was his favorite band, ever.

Today I got the bad news from the Facebook update of another acclaimed writer, Dan Albergotti: Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous has taken his own life.

I wonder if the following excerpt, from Walker Percy’s book Lost in the Cosmos, would help someone who is feeling the way Linkous might have been feeling:

If you are serious about the choice, certain consequences follow. Consider the alternatives. Suppose you elect suicide. Very well. You exit. Then what? What happens after you exit? Nothing much. Very little, indeed. After a ripple or two, the water closes over your head as if you had never existed. You are not indispensable, after all. You are not even a black hole in the Cosmos. All that stress and anxiety was for nothing. Your fellow townsmen will have something to talk about for a few days. Your neighbors will profess shock and enjoy it. One or two might miss you, perhaps your family, who will also resent the disgrace. Your creditors will resent the inconvenience. Your lawyers will be pleased. Your psychiatrist will be displeased. The priest or minister or rabbi will say a few words over you and down you go on the green tapes and that’s the end of you. In a surprisingly short time, everyone is back in the rut of his own self as if you had never existed.

Now, in the light of this alternative, consider the other alternative. You can elect suicide, but you decide not to. What happens? All at once, you are dispensed. Why not live, instead of dying? You are like a prisoner released from the cell of his life. You notice that the cell door is ajar and that the sun is shining outside. Why not take a walk down the street? Where you might have been dead, you are alive. The sun is shining.

Suddenly you feel like a castaway on an island. You can’t believe your good fortune. You feel for broken bones. You are in one piece, sole survivor of a foundered ship whose captain and crew had worried themselves into a fatal funk. And here you are, cast up on a beach and taken in by islanders who, it turns out, are themselves worried sick–over what? Over status, saving face, self-esteem, national rivalries, boredom, anxiety, depression from which they seek relief mainly in wars and the natural catastrophes which regularly overtake their neighbors.

And you, an ex-suicide, lying on the beach? In what way have you been freed by the serious entertainment of your hypothetical suicide? Are you not free for the first time in your life to consider the folly of man, the most absurd of all the species, and to contemplate the cosmic mystery of your own existence? And even to consider which is the more absurd state of affairs, the manifest absurdity of your predicament: lost in the Cosmos and no news of how you got into such a fix or how to get out–or the even more preposterous eventuality that news did come from the God of the Cosmos, who took pity on your ridiculous plight and entered the space and time of your insignificant planet to tell you something.

The difference between a non-suicide and an ex-suicide leaving the house for work, at eight o’clock on an ordinary morning:

The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.

The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn’t have to.

Aesthetics in Christian theology and worship

Kelly James Clark and James K.A. Smith of Calvin College, and Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (my uncle’s alma mater), offer a concise expression of the role of aesthetics in theology and worship:

“….While strands of Christian, especially Protestant, theology have adopted the more rationalistic stance of Plato, throughout history many theologians have affirmed the aesthetic as a central medium of both revelation and truth, particularly Neoplatonic theologians such as Bonaventure. This emphasis on the aesthetics has received renewed interest in contemporary theology due to the work of Hans urs von Balthasar, Jean-Luc Marion, and Jeremy Begbie. At the core of these theological aesthetics (or aesthetic theologies) is a rejection of the rationalistic axiom, which assumes that truth is communicated only in cognitive propositions. Rather, there is a mode of truth telling that is unique to the aesthetic or ‘affective,’ that cannot be reduced to cognitive propositions. Appeal is often made to the liturgy itself as an example of this, particularly the rich eucharistic liturgies of Orthodox and Catholic traditions, where all of the senses are engaged in order to communicate the truth of grace. Theological aesthetics has entailed a double development: both a renewed interest in arts and a retooling of theology in response to aesthetic reality.”

The excerpt comes from the definition of “Aesthetics” in the excellent (if rather utilitarian in title) 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

The above excerpt is what I wished I had said when I founded, because it explains much of my editorial stance.

-Colin Foote Burch

Questions about the adequacy of Nicene faith; is a creedal faith sufficient grounds for the work of God?

So let me get this straight — the believers who fully agree with the Nicene Creed do not have an adequate faith?

I am frustrated.

Who establishes a believer’s salvation? The Trinitarian God.

Who begins the work of God in the believer? The Trinitarian God.

Who completes it according to Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Philippians? The Trinitarian God.

Does God fail at anything He decides to do? No.

Now, if the individual believer has not been taught a particular view of grace, a particular view of justification, or a particular view of atonement, yet fully believes the Nicene Creed, is not that confidence in the statements of the Nicene Creed due solely to the work of the Trinitarian God?

Is an individual’s absolute certainty regarding the statements of the Nicene Creed adequate to bring him into the House of the Trinitarian God?

If certitude regarding the statements of the Nicene Creed can only come from the work of the Trinitarian God, and that certitude is adequate to bring the believer into the House of God, then will not God complete the work He has begun in the individual believer?

If a minister does not preach particular views of grace, justification, and atonement, will the Trinitarian God fail to fulfill his promise to complete the work He began in the individual believer?

If the work of the Trinitarian God in the individual believer depends upon a minister’s teaching of particular views, does not the individual believer’s spiritual growth depend upon men?

If Nicene faith is adequate for God to complete the work He began in an individual believer, then would particular views of grace, justification, and atonement be then secondary and non-essential?

Once an individual, by God’s grace, has accepted the statements of the Nicene Creed wholeheartedly, must that individual have a full understanding of particular views on particular doctrines before the work of God is activated within him?

In his Institutes, John Calvin wrote:

We are said to be clothed with him, to be one with him, that we may live, because he himself lives. The doctrine is often repeated, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). He who believes in him is said to have passed from death unto life (John 5:24).

The passage in which this appears addresses the believer’s assurance of belonging to God through Christ. I’m not an expert on Calvin, and yet it seems fairly clear that Calvin’s formula for salvation is simply acknowledging the work of God that was done on our behalf through Christ. Calvin exhorts the believer to look to Christ. If a believer gets only as far as that, and does not get any further into Calvin’s or any other of the diverse views of atonement, justification, and grace, will God fail to continue the work He began?

Please comment.

Point of discussion: ‘simple faith’ risks Utopianism


To some extent, those who believe that the doctrinal and theological controversies should have been, and ought to be, avoided for the sake of ‘simple faith’ are guilty of a Utopian presupposition. A fallen and messy world, in which we see God through a glass darkly, affords us no optimism that simplifying our faith will make life in this world any better. To turn the matter to the positive side, if we try to grasp the inexhaustible meanings of the Incarnation, grace, the sacraments, and the Creation that God called ‘good,’ don’t we risk complexity for the sake of understanding? Is it undesirable to have a complex expression of a faith that is both historical and eternal?

What do you think? Say it!

-Colin Burch